Altgeld Gardens Residents Talk About Former Community Organizer's Legacy
Altgeld Gardens is a Chicago Public Housing community at 130th Street — about as far south as you can get in the city. Barack Obama did some of his early community organizing work here, so the Gardens -- as it’s called -- has a special link to the president. WBEZ sent me and photographer Richard Cahan to Altgeld early on the morning after Obama first won the presidency.
“This is my morning anthem,” he said. "And it should be everybody’s morning anthem!”
“I can sum it up with one word,” he said. “When I woke up this morning I said whaaaat? No. Can’t be real.”
He advised Rich and me to buckle up for “the roller coaster ride called Donald Trump. The man couldn’t tell you the truth if he tried,” Belmont told us. And adds: “Donald Trump says what he needs to say to the group of people he’s speaking to.”
One of Belmont’s big worries? That Obamacare will be axed. We heard that from a lot of people at the Gardens. He also puzzled over how Trump can deal effectively with other world leaders.
“He thinks he can say anything and it’s okay,” Belmont said. “It’s not. Words hurt. Words stick with people longer than a bruise.”
“They bring forth a lot of times in their elections is that people are too dependent on government. And you know? It’s a ring of truth to that.”
As for Obama’s legacy, Nelson said, “I mean as happy as we were to have a black president — you know Obama was the president of everyone. He was not just a president of black folks.”
There’s a central location for this community, and everyone here calls it “Uptop.” It used to be a sort of mini-mall that included a barber shop, clothing store, poolroom and a grocery store. Those are long gone. When we bump into Altged resident Tracy Goodwin, she spontaneously offered an explanation for an unusual feature in this part of the Gardens.
She told us a brick wall that’s painted bright yellow with handwritten names is a memorial for all the Altgeld residents who have died.
Died from what? we asked.
“Usually violence, sadly,” Goodwin said. “Mostly that’s what the cousins whose names I have up there is from violence.”
She said she thinks it’s too soon to judge the president-elect.
“I mean, I’m not against him, you know, but the fact of the matter is … let’s see what he can do,” she said. “That’s my whole take on it. It can’t all be bad. Everybody needs a chance. You know what I’m saying? That’s just how I feel.”
Henderson’s son Isaiah was fidgeting. He said he heard a rumor and he wanted to talk about it.
“My dad said nothing great would happen if Donald Trump became president. And it appears to me that that’s really true,” he said. “I heard rumors that Donald Trump would send us to Africa, and my friends started hearing that too!”
We heard that rumor from a couple of children at the Gardens and from an adult, too.
“But you know it’s kinda like -- he’s just bein’ blunt, you know? He’s just tellin’ the truth. You want a president that’ll lie to you? Or you want a president that tell you the truth?” he said.
An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of the laundromat attendant Linda and Richard spoke with her in 2008. As reflected in the article, her name is spelled Liquita Saulter.